Los Angeles Reports 85 New Syphilis Cases, 58% in HIV-Positive Men Who Have Sex With Men
Los Angeles County, Calif., has recorded 85 news cases of syphilis so far this year, despite a proclamation by the county last June that it had "defeated a major outbreak," the Los Angeles Times reports. The new cases, all found among men who have sex with men, are believed to be part of the same outbreak that the county spent thousands of dollars publicizing last year. At this time last year, there were 69 new syphilis cases reported in the county. County Department of Health Services Chief of Operations John Schunhoff said that it is "possible" that some of the newly reported cases are infections originating last summer that have gone undetected. The Times reports that the new cases are "the most recent disturbing sign" that some gay men in the area are no longer practicing safe sex. Of the 85 new syphilis cases, 58% occurred in HIV-positive men. "You can't do good HIV prevention in the absence of a good public health system, and the [syphilis] resurgence shows the county public health system is severely lacking," Michael Weinstein, director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said. He and other AIDS activists said the county was too quick to "declar[e] victory" over syphilis last summer. Cesar Portillo, also of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, said, "When you've got a public health authority saying syphilis is gone, that's what leads to these (unsafe sex) practices." Fred Leaf, acting director of DHS, acknowledged that his agency's awareness campaign "wasn't as sustained as it should have been," adding, "We kind of did it for 60 days and stopped." County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky on Tuesday asked the department to draw up a new plan "[g]iven the critical nature of this outbreak and the relationship to the spread of HIV infection." Until last year, Los Angeles County reported 120 new syphilis cases annually, "virtually all of them among heterosexuals" (Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, 8/22).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.